The beginning of the year is the ideal time to think about the challenges and issues you didn't quite get on top of last year and how you can put things right over the next 12 months. If you want to lose weight, call Jenny Craig. But if you want to get your career into shape, here's a list of 10 do's to get you thinking on the steps you can take to be a better manager in 2016.
IT STARTS WITH A LIST
If you want to become a better manager it's best not to wing it. You should identify the areas that were a problem last year and you now want to put right.
Identifying problems, weak spots or areas for improvement is one thing; what are you going to do about them?
Your list should include actions you can take, indicators of success and people who can assist you with particular issues.
If necessary, be prepared to consult others – a trusted team member or colleague, your boss or a valued peer – to assist in compiling your list and perhaps to monitor progress along the way.
DROP THE JARGON
When employees are surveyed about their biggest gripes, poor communication from their immediate manager usually comes up.
This includes how tasks are set and explained, feedback about individual performance and communication about what is happening in the organisation.
The use of management jargon is one of the most significant barriers to effective communication, both verbal and written.
Jargon is so pervasive in large organisations it may seem an uphill battle to do away with management-speak altogether. But when it comes to your own staff, they will appreciate communication that is crisp, to the point and in English.
PROVIDE AND ENCOURAGE HONEST FEEDBACK
Formal performance reviews are ostensibly about feedback but real feedback can't be confined to once every six or 12 months. Real feedback occurs every day.
Employees want their work valued and appreciated; too many managers have come to believe feedback should be reserved for formal reviews. The result is staff rarely receive it when it matters.
That's not to say staff should be lavished with praise just for turning up to work. Gratuitous praise is just as bad no praise. But staff will appreciate it when an exemplary piece of work or initiative, or efforts above and beyond, are recognised and acknowledged.
Honest feedback also means having difficult conversations about work that's below par, or behaviour that is unacceptable. When a manager is respected, those conversations are a lot easier to have, and employees will value them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
As well as giving feedback a manager should be prepared to take it; astute managers also welcome opportunities to learn and grow.
BE A BUILDER
An uncertain economy, flatter organisations and career paths that aren't as linear as they used to be make corporate environments very competitive for anyone wanting to give their CV a kick-along.
Looking after No.1 might seem the most prudent course when you've got your eye on your next career milestone but working life would be a lot more interesting and rewarding if you also take an interest in the careers of those around you.
As a builder you should take a personal and professional interest in identifying future leaders and high-fliers on your team, providing them with tasks and assignments that challenge them and encouraging them to pursue professional and leadership development opportunities.
Nurturing talent can be personally satisfying, while also playing a valuable role in building your organisation's leadership pipeline.
GET YOURSELF A PROJECT TO CALL YOUR OWN
When developing a management career there will be times when your purview doesn't provide a lot of opportunity to shine.
Rather than feel hemmed in, seek out a project within the organisation you can take responsibility for in addition to your regular duties.
Organisations today are less likely to restrict rising talent to particular functions or specialisations, so the ideal project may exist in another department.
As well as adding another string to your career bow, it could provide you with a much needed fillip that will enable you to do your 'day job' with renewed vigour and fresh insights.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PROGRAMS
It's easy to convince yourself you're too busy to sign up for the management and leadership programs your employer offers, but the bottom line is you're missing out on opportunities to acquire new knowledge, sharpen skills and even awaken an interest to pursue further training.
If the programs and training available at your organisation don't quite suit your needs, or if you're aware of a particularly good program not currently offered by your employer, it's worth bringing the program to the attention of HR or Learning & Development.
HAVE FEWER MEETINGS
The higher up the ladder you go, the more meetings you will have to attend. That's just a tedious fact of corporate life. There's not much you can do to stem the flow of meetings called from above, but you can control the number of meetings you institute.
Many managers call meetings because they can; a spoil of rank. Pointless and unnecessary meetings are a drain on morale, time and productivity.
Far from conferring status on you, calling unnecessary meetings risks diminishing your standing as a manager. Spending more time in discussions with relevant staff or teams, taking responsibility for decisions and being prepared to delegate will in most cases obviate the need for meetings.
SPICE IT UP
Careers can hit bland spots, even when you know you're heading in the right direction. The job gets just a little too predictable and the challenges seem ever diminishing. That's when you need to spice things up, take yourself out of your comfort zone and pick up some new skills and perspectives along the way.
Becoming involved in a project requiring different attributes is one way; if you're in finance, for example, ask to be involved in a project in the marketing or communications.
Another is to request a temporary secondment to another company, possibly even in another industry. An easy and constructive way to step into unfamiliar territory is to become involved in special interest groups – such as cultural or diversity networking groups – within your company.
BE WELL INFORMED: READ, READ, READ
There is so much information on the internet many people are convinced they know everything they need to know – or can readily acquire that knowledge on demand as required. This is partly true but mostly not.
Occasionally troubling your search engine for a pertinent fact – if fact it is – does not constitute being well informed. Being well informed also includes context, circumstance, background and history.
Many people have fallen out of the habit of subscribing to business and current-affair publications and wear it as a badge of honour.
The best decisions come from the best informed minds. It may be retro, but get yourself subscriptions to quality Australian newspapers (there are still a few) as well as the best the international media has to offer, such as The Economist, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Financial Times. In the meantime, you've made an excellent start with ANZ BlueNotes.
IF YOU DON'T HAVE A MENTOR, GET ONE
It's lonely at the top, and it can be pretty lonely a few rungs down as well. It's easy to feel stranded mid-career and wondering how to best negotiate your way forward.
Office politics, problem staff, tricky decisions, performance issues, forks and obstacles in your career path, personal stuff and the minutiae of corporate life can easily overwhelm if you let it.
It's good to have a seasoned hand in your corner, someone who has seen it all before and is happy to be your sounding board and wise counsel.
A mentor relationship can be formal or informal, as simple as a regular or occasional cup of coffee. It might be someone in your organisation or part of your external network.
As long as it's someone you trust and respect. If you have someone in mind: ask.
Leo D'Angelo-Fisher specialises in the practice and malpractice of management. In more than three decades as a business journalist he has worked for BRW, The Australian Financial Review and a range of other business magazines in Australia and Hong Kong. His sometimes acerbic observations of management and its fads have brought him a wide following. He blogs at leodangelofisher.com.